God's Relationship To Suffering And Death
March 14, 2019
Death is such an extreme subject that it can have a severe effect on how we perceive God. It is not just death that can have influence on our perception of God, but also the manner in which it comes. Many people feel that God is unjust to allow death, and also to allow it to come in the manner that it so frequently does – suddenly, violently, and sometimes to those who have not lived long. People often develop their own perceptions of how they think things should be. Unfortunately, these opinions are often based off of self-righteous standards, not taking the truth of sin into consideration. The Bible is clear to explain that, as people, we don’t see things the way God does. We don’t have all the facts and details. Perhaps more importantly, our relationship to death makes it seem like loss of life here is the end of life altogether. Since we are not eternally self-existing and self-sustaining like God, we often forget to consider the eternal components and purposes of His plans, especially when death is involved. Knowing these things, it is important for the people of God to reserve judgment about death and the manner in which God uses it. God did not bring death into the world. The sins of mankind brought death into the world. Hence, our opinions of God should not be based on the consequences of our weaknesses, but in how God is willing to provide mercy and escape despite our weaknesses.
The testimony of Job 14:15-22 shows that sometimes, our pain and grief can cloud our minds and cause us to say things that are offensive to God and untrue. The pain of our circumstances can sometimes cause us to dwell on the issues we experience now, so that we forget the magnitude of God’s grace and the hope He provides. When Job spoke about life and death, he spoke truthfully. When Job explained his heart concerning God’s relationship to life and death, he spoke amiss. Job was right to explain that God has sovereign charge over life. He is the one that determines the extent of our life. He not only numbers the days in advance, but Job also explained that God numbers our steps too! This is the extent of God’s supreme control. God doesn’t just set the schedule of time for us to make our own decisions. He also has directed our steps within the time He has allotted. God ensures that we are where He wants us at all times in order to fulfill His eternal purposes. For Job, this meant that his suffering and the extent of it was by the administration of God. This is true. While God was not the cause, God most certainly led Job to a place of extreme difficulty. This was true even of Jesus Himself. Recall that immediately after Jesus was baptized, He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. God led His Son there because that was the manner in which Jesus would be validated as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. Job did not understand why he was suffering, but understood that God was the One that had charge over his steps to lead him into the pit of misery.
Acknowledging the extent of God’s control, Job also confessed the extent of God’s knowledge and wisdom. Job didn’t fight God for directing his steps into suffering because Job knew that God saw everything in his heart. Job knew he was not guilty of the hypocrisy his friends accused of, but he knew he was still a transgressor. Job knew that iniquity of various kinds was still in his heart. It didn’t matter what kind of sin he had, Job knew that God was just to lead him into suffering. The suffering Job experienced might not have been for hypocrisy, but Job understood that there was enough evil in his heart that was well-deserving of suffering of any kind. Job confessed his sin. Job confessed his depravity. Job hated his suffering, but could not complain against God’s righteousness to administrate it. Therefore, he hoped that God would not continue to hold whatever sin against him. Job couldn’t identify the specific sin that God was punishing, but hoped that God would relent soon.
Here is where Job missed. Job hoped that God would not “watch over” his sin. In other words, Job didn’t want God to seek out Job’s sin and dwell on it so as to mock Job about it and condemn him with joy. Job didn’t want God to look at his sin like a bully, and continually bring up Job’s faults and weaknesses to add insult to his injury. Job also pleaded with God not to put his sin in a bag as if to store it for later to bring as an accusation against Job to a greater magnitude. Job felt as if God was seeking Job’s faults out and storing them in a box to be presented as evidence against Job in the day of judgment. Job assumed God was exercising His omniscience and omnipotence to come down on him as a harsh and condemning God. Job’s attitude shows that he felt God was using death as a toy to cause harm against transgressors unto His pleasure and exaltation. The pain of Job’s suffering caused him to think that God was excited by the future destruction of Job and enjoyed the slow death Job felt he was suffering. Though Job knew that God could restore and looked forward to the hope of that restoration in eternity, he saw God as using the pain and suffering of coming death to flex His power and superiority by belittling the souls of humans.
Job’s justification for this manner of thinking was based on simple observations that he made. Job recognized that this world is in a constant state of decay. Mountains crumble daily; maybe not to be completely flat, but rockslides, erosions, and other forms of leveling happen all the time. The wind wears down roads. The waters break down rocks. Rivers wash away parts of the earth all the time. When considering the magnitude of the earth, the rocks, and the mountains, what chance does mankind have in this life? If God continually uses wind, water, and gravity to enable the decay of things like mountains and plains, how can a weak and pitiful man stand up to the decay of this world? Thus, Job concluded that God destroys the hope of man. Job felt that since the suffering of decay causes people to change in dramatic ways, God has it out against people. It is true that God uses decay to change people, but not maliciously as Job implied. Job said that God changes the countenance of people by decay. This is true. Sickness can change the way we look. Death changes the look of a person’s face all the more. The change that decay causes often effects the mind as well. Job explained that a suffering person often loses concern for things that would have moved them had they not been suffering. Family challenges or successes can seem like irrelevant matters when personal suffering is great. Things that might have excited us or frightened us might seem to be nothing if death is so close to us.
Still, after all that Job expressed, despite some of his points having merit, his opinion of God was false. God is not malicious. God does not destroy the hope of man. God is not holding our sins in a bag to swing against us later. The Bible teaches that God is merciful in nature. In Psalm 103 the Bible teaches that God actually DOES NOT punish people to the full extent that we deserve. It is true that God uses death as His instrument according to His purposes, but not at the expense of His mercy, grace, faithfulness, and loving kindness. His use and control of life and death is never at the expense of His eternally unconditional promises to offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life by His own righteousness. God doesn’t uphold His righteousness to burry and condemn. While many will be condemned, it is only because of their rejection of God’s grace to share His righteousness according to faith. God took the form of flesh to die on behalf of our sin. God doesn’t take away hope as Job purposed. Without God there would not be hope! Though Job knew a lot of these things, the pain of his suffering had caused him to respond emotionally from time to time so as to say things that were simply not true of God, and contrary to Him. Seeing this human tendency, we need to be sure that our circumstances don’t corrupt our perception of the truth about God. The scriptures explain the truth of God and they are true no matter how we feel. Our opinions about God’s work in our lives doesn’t change the nature of God. Therefore, we would be wise to ensure our opinions don’t pervert our understanding and remembrance of truth.